Field recordist and production sound engineer Mark Krupka
By Dustin Driver
Most audio pros work with computers and electronic gear. Mark Krupka works with mosquitoes, crocodiles, poisonous snakes, scorpions, and spiders. "To me sitting in the bush, taking it all in is incredible to experience," he says. "I feel right at home."
Krupka is an independent field recordist and audio engineer. He's a veteran of documentary and reality TV work, a modern adventurer in the truest sense. He has traveled the world with his mic, capturing audio for shows like Survivor, Expedition: Africa, National Geographic’s Trek’s In a Wild World and Project Runway. He's swam the waters of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, and slept in ancient Mayan ruins. "It's given me an opportunity to travel all over the world," he says. "And I think traveling makes you a more well-rounded person, gives you perspective on the world. That's one of the biggest reasons I'm a field recordist."
From Songs to Safaris
Krupka didn't get into audio recording and mixing to travel the world. His audio obsession started with music. "I started playing bass when I was around 12," he says. "My brother played guitar and he wanted to form a band. I was very serious about music and I practiced several hours a day." By the time he was 20, Krupka was a veteran bass player. He was also the de-facto recording engineer and mixing artist for his band. "I was the guy in the band who spent all his extra money on recording gear," he says. "I recorded and mixed almost everything we did."
For Krupka, music was his life, his career. "I thought I would end up playing music for a living on a major level," he says. "At the same time there's a practical side to me and I decided I'd better have some sort of backup plan. That's why I went to OIART."
The bass player initially studied music recording at OIART. "I was primarily there to learn how to record music so I could be more efficient in the studio," he says. Soon, however, his love affair with music began to wane. "At a certain point I got fed up with music. I didn't like what was popular at the time and I became disenfranchised with the whole notion of being involved in that stuff."
Krupka finished his work at OIART, and promptly moved on to photography. "I had always been into photography, and I started doing advertising work," he says. "That developed into a full-fledged studio for ad photography and eventually video—television commercials and music videos. Due to a variety of reasons I changed directions and joined some friends who were doing reality TV. I came full circle. Now I do audio recording and mixing almost exclusively."
The Sound of Sandflies
Today Krupka can be found wielding a boom mic in remote regions of the planet, striving to capture perfect audio. It's physically demanding work, and technically challenging. "You need to put yourself in the right spot at the right time to get the story," he says. "That means lots of running with heavy gear, for long periods of time. It means keeping your focus when there are clouds of mosquitoes swarming about and heavy rain pouring for hours. It's unlike anything else in the audio industry and it's fantastic."
When you're in the bush—or the jungle, or tundra—getting good sound becomes more than just a matter of technical prowess. "You need to be something of a naturalist," says Krupka. "You need to know what to do if you're 20 feet from an elephant, or in the woods caught between a bear and her cub. You need to know what to do because it can be a matter of life and death."
Knowing how to handle yourself in perilous situations is key, but it's only part of the picture. "Really what I'm doing is following story," says Krupka. "The camera guy is listening to what I'm recording and we rely on each other to seek out good story. Without the story, you've got nothing. It's extremely important to be there and to know what's relevant."
In the midst of so much, Krupka can't take the time to futz around with gear. He needs to know his equipment inside and out and adjusting it should be second nature. "That's one of the advantages of going to a place like OIART," he says. "You get a really solid background on the technical aspects of sound recording. Whether it's making music in a studio, or recording people or animals in the field, you have to know what you're doing. You need to know acoustics, levels, microphones. You pick up all of that stuff at a place like OIART."
Forever a Student, Always Learning
Education is key to Krupka's success, even today. "I believe that today you have to have a big bag of tricks," he says. "The people who have many skills are going to be more employable. My attitude is forever a student, always learning. You're always learning new stuff. If you stop being interested in new technologies, you become a dinosaur."
Keep up with the latest technology, know how to use it to your advantage, and you'll likely land a gig, says Krupka. "I think the industry has room, and has a need for people that have a very broad scope of understanding, rather than compartmentalized areas of expertise. I think people that can do a lot of different things have a greater chance of success."
That kind of diversity can come in handy in reality TV production, one of the fastest-growing segments of entertainment. "Because of reality television there's a lot of job opportunity in field recording," says Krupka. "Reality television is cheap to produce, and profitable because you don't have writers, you don't have actors. So there are a lot of those shows being made and they all need sound recordists. I think it's a very good avenue for employment, for people coming out of OIART or any technical school."
Landing a job takes more than technical skills. In most industries, and in the entertainment industry in particular, it takes serious social skills, says Krupka. "It has a lot to do with who you know, or who you get to know," he says. "It has a lot to do with your social ability. People want to work with people they want to hang out with. So having good social skills in addition to good technical chops is key."
Both can be acquired at OIART, says Krupka. "Going to a place like OIART gives you the technical background and introduces you to people in the industry," he says. "You learn a tremendous amount about working with sound, but you also learn how to interact with the people you could work with. It's indispensable experience."
Food for Crocs
Krupka remembers a close encounter while on the job in Africa.
"I was running along a riverbank in Africa, trying to get ahead of the action to put myself into a spot to get great sound. I leap off an embankment and down I go into mud nearly up to my shoulders. We're in crocodile country and crocs just sit and wait for their victims to be stranded or maimed in some way so they're an easy target. So here I am, stuck. I completely missed the action. I didn't estimate the right position. Not only did I not get any sound, but I'm trapped and the crew has moved on. I can't get to my walkie-talkie—it's under the mud. I start thinking, I'm food for crocodiles now. I waited for about 10 minutes, which seemed like 10 hours, and finally got pulled out. Now I can look back on that and think it's kinda funny. You don't get those kind of experiences in the studio."